The immigration clock is ticking, but to mix metaphors, it is unclear for whom the bell tolls. Some panicked Republicans are certain that electoral demographic death awaits the party if it doesn't quickly pass something close to or resembling the vast immigration bill passed by the Senate. Liberal pundits agree: "For Republicans, it's now or never on immigration reform."
That is patently false. There exist a number of timing options for real immigration reform, though none of them are particularly favorable for the passage of a Senate-like immigration bill.
The closest possible time to set an alarm on the immigration clock for a GOP bill is after the time for filing primary challenges has passed. This is the view of National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Rep. Greg Walden who, according to a Politico article, "predicted at a House retreat late last month that a reform package wouldn't come up until at least after the primary season passed."
His optimistic take: "It's probably months out, I don't know. But the point would be most of the primaries would've faded by then, anyway. By the time you get to June, most of them are behind you." As the article puts it, "Where Republicans looking for passage see a bright light is after filing deadlines pass and challengers can no longer jump in."
This post-primary-season-equals-good-immigration-bill-timing assumption is based on the premise that there is a hidden reservoir of support by House Republicans for some kind of immigration reform, and perhaps there is. However, first the Republicans will have to find common ground among themselves. And if it is found, it is very unlikely to square with the Senate's current view of what ought to be done.
House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.), who supports trying to get House Republicans to pass immigration reform, was quoted recently as saying, "We don't have the votes right now [to pass a rewrite of immigration reform]. Right now, we're working hard to find where that consensus lies."
Perhaps it is possible to arrive at a consensus by the end of primary season this summer. But even if that were the case it would be absolutely foolhardy for the GOP to engage in the kind of debate that will accompany any Republican immigration bill with Democrats refereeing from the sidelines. And all of this is taking place in the few months left before the 2014 congressional elections that are looking very promising for Republicans. What political party in its right mind would give its opponents the gift of a large rhetorical distraction and political club right before they are poised to make major electoral gains, in the Senate as well as in the House?
Short answer: None would or should, not even Republicans.
This brings us to the next layer of conventional wisdom, this time delivered by ABC's Jeff Zelany: "Yet Boehner, as much as anyone else, is the leader of the Republican Party. He knows it's essential to revive the immigration debate. So expect him to try again, perhaps as early as this summer after primary challenges are over, or after the midterm elections."
Translation: The Republicans are on the ropes and Speaker Boehner knows it ("He knows it's essential to revive the immigration debate"), and therefore as soon as the pressure of the midterm elections is over, the House will bring up and pass immigration reform.
Not so fast.